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Want a more diverse team? Here are the technical interview strategies your engineers should know

You’ve invested a lot of work into inclusive recruiting and sourcing at your tech company—but the candidates getting offers don’t seem to reflect the diversity in your pipeline. This is a common frustration. Strategies for promoting diversity and equity need to be evaluated at every stage of the hiring process, and interviewing is often where unconscious bias has the most opportunity to sneak in. 

In this article, we’ll give you some suggestions for coaching your engineering team to give the technical interviews that level the playing field. After all, building diverse technical teams doesn’t stop with the Talent Acquisition team: it’s the responsibility of hiring managers, too. You’ll learn how engineers can use structured interviews, job-relevant questions, and progressive questions to help support your diversity initiatives. 

Types of bias that can occur during technical interviews

No one likes to think that they are biased, and yet we all have unconscious bias that can affect how candidates are evaluated during an interview. Some examples are:

  • Confirmation bias: This happens when you look for information about the candidate that supports what you already believe to be true about them. For example, suppose you are interviewing a candidate and you worry that their resume shows a lack of system design experience. You might unintentionally ask them harder system architecture questions than you gave other candidates. 
  • Halo effect: Sometimes, one positive aspect of the candidate can cast a glow on the rest of their performance. It could be anything from their bright smile to their description of their volunteer work at a coding school. Without realizing it, you might overlook the fact that a candidate struggled through the technical interview questions.
  • Affinity bias: When you have something in common with a candidate, it’s harder to be an objective interviewer. From a diversity perspective, this creates a vicious cycle where candidates who are similar to the people who already work at your company are more likely to receive high marks in an interview. 
  • Conservatism bias: Humans tend to “anchor” on evidence that’s presented first, and we’re slow to update our beliefs when new information comes to light. This is why we so often talk about the importance of a first impression! However, it’s essential that interviewers assess a candidate’s performance as a whole.

Before you say, “that’s not me,” we also all have what’s been called a bias blind spot: studies have shown that the majority of people believe their own bias is less than others’. 

How to remove bias from technical interviews

Without removing humans from technical interviews, there may be no way to remove bias entirely. And personal interaction is important in an interview. You might end up working with this candidate for years, and vice versa, so it’s good to get to know each other!

Fortunately, there are ways to mitigate the bias pitfalls described above. Recruiters can encourage hiring teams to practice consistent, repeatable methods for developing and conducting a technical interview. Interviewers will still be a key part of the process—they’ll just have a method for being objective when it comes to evaluating whether the candidate is qualified for the job. 

1. Structured interviews

Structured interviews are interviews that use a consistent set of questions, steps, and evaluation metrics across candidates. Research has shown that structured interviews allow employers to successfully predict how candidates will perform on the job. And, they help reduce bias in hiring by making the interview process more objective and consistent

To create a structured interview, start by deciding what skills the team wants to measure, and then develop questions that you can reuse again and again. This ensures that there isn’t any improvisation happening during the interview—which is where subjectivity can be introduced as some candidates might get harder or easier versions of the questions. Furthermore, make sure the order of the questions remains consistent. 

2. Job-relevant questions

To hire diverse candidates, it’s important to keep questions focused on real, on-the-job skills. This will ensure that candidates aren’t hired based on how much time they had to study algorithm brainteasers online—or by how well they understand an abstract analogy. 

Technical interview questions that assume knowledge of a certain culture or way of life, even something as seemingly innocuous as how an ATM machine works, might not be common knowledge for everyone. If engineers are having trouble coming up with practical questions, ask them to think about a simpler version of a problem they recently encountered in their work. 

3. Progressive questions

The order of questions in a structured interview is essential. And that order should progress in complexity from easy to hard. This lets the candidate experience a small success right away, which will boost their confidence and create the same positive “anchor” for everyone. 

Progressive questions that build on one problem are also inherently job-relevant. Most technical problems in the workplace require engineers to take an initial solution or piece of code and continue modifying it as new information and requirements come to light. Designing progressive questions is easier for engineering teams, too, because they’ll be able to use the same technical interview across a range of experience or skill levels, expanding based on how far someone gets. 

While you can implement these strategies manually, there are also tools that can scale your technical interviews in a way that fights bias—while also making it easy for your engineering team, so they aren’t spending all their time developing structured interviews and job-relevant, progressive questions. CodeSignal is one such tool that provides a platform for conducting consistent and structured technical skills assessments. Request a free demo here